The following text is an excerpt from Hang Him When He Is Not There by Nicholas John Turner, published by Splice. Click here to purchase the novel in paperback, hardback, or eBook formats.
That’s them, said Gabriel, and he turned about in his chair and looked back at the blue kiosk. Gabriel was squinting and holding one knee up in his arms. The negritas, he said. I walked over to the kiosk and I put my hand on the bar next to the two girls that were standing there and they greeted me in Spanish and then in English. I gave the barman some money and directed the girls across the sand where Gabriel was sitting and he turned around in his chair and looked back at us and waved. The girls held onto each other’s shoulders and took off their high heels and they waved back at Gabriel once they’d taken them off. Gabriel stared at them as they moved across the sand towards him and he stopped waving. I followed the girls closely and held my palms against the smalls of their backs and they giggled and whispered to each other. Dios mio, said the shorter of the girls, gemelos. She turned back to look at me again and her teeth were large and wet and she asked if we were twins. It seems that we are, said Gabriel. He got up from his chair and kissed the girls each on the cheek and he offered them the chairs we’d been sitting in. They smiled and giggled and accepted but kept standing. Gabriel introduced himself and then me and I stood with my hands behind my back and the girls’ shoes hanging off my fingers. The girls were dressed in tight tops and pants that clung to their bodies. Their makeup was purple and looked solid and Gabriel asked them if they were sisters too or else friends and they smiled and said that they were old friends and they played with each others’ hands and fingers. Gabriel kissed the girls again and the shorter of the girls grabbed onto his arm when he touched her cheek. The girls rolled up their pants and sat in the chairs and I waved to the man looking after the tent and ordered beers and Gabriel told them to talk to him. The shorter girl was called Maria-Lady. She had a large, pronounced forehead and under it her face was small and she had tight balls of flesh on the points of her cheek bones. Her breasts were big and ripe-looking and she was solid and her bulging ass and thighs pulled her belt-loops away from her belt. The hairs down her jaw were dark and sharp and the wrinkles in her cleavage were thin and pale and like the skin on custard. The taller girl was called Maria-Elizabeth and she had a thin, pretty face and her eyes were small in large sockets and her temples were recessed and her cheeks were hard and flat and her hair was braided stiff. She had a tiny, hipless torso and she lifted her shirt to sun it in the chair and her stomach was hard and muscular and her naval protruded palely, like a thumb forced through a buttonhole or a small, grey mushroom. Gabriel stroked Maria-Lady’s arm and told her to get undressed and that he wanted to see her out in the water. She took his hands and kissed them and she apologised and said that they hadn’t brought their bikinis and didn’t realise he’d wanted them to. I reached over and held Maria-Elizabeth’s earrings. They were large, beaded hoops with hanging feathers and I told her they reminded me of dreamcatchers and Maria-Elizabeth thanked me and blinked and looked away shyly at Gabriel who was squatting down so that the sun bisected him and his legs were splayed about Maria-Lady’s chair. Gabriel told them that he’d asked for them to bring bikinis today specifically and that he’d been clear about it and was promised they would. Maria-Lady rubbed his thigh and tilted her head and she hung her lip sulkily and said she was sorry and didn’t know, really. She shook her head and ran her finger up Gabriel’s neck and behind his ear and then she rubbed his earrings and then ran her long fingernails over the studs. Pappi, these are pretty, she said. She asked Gabriel if he thought that the earrings would look nice on her and I watched her other hand playing with a gold crucifix that was resting on her big tits. Gabriel grabbed her hand firmly and furrowed his brow. He lowered and shook his head and said that it wasn’t her fault, and he rubbed the top of her terse thigh with his palm, and he called her beautiful and kissed her hand. It’s not your fault, he said. And then he said it again and took his hand off her thigh and combed through the sand coarsely. Maria-Lady reached down and lifted his chin with her finger and asked him if he liked her body and if he thought that Maria-Elizabeth was pretty. Gabriel shook his head and smiled and was groaning softly. No doubt, no doubt about that, Gabriel said. He put his hand on Maria-Lady’s thigh, sliding it toward her. This isn’t your fault, he said again. His other hand was almost buried in the sand. Maria-Lady snatched it up and pressed it to her throat, and she breathed deeply in silence. Then she pushed him away and stood up and she pulled her yellow top over her head and threw it in the sand. Her breasts sat up in her blue-lace bra, fatty and trembling, and the pale, serrated stretch marks across her lower back were thick and deep, and her hands were on her hips. Her thumbnails were painted intricately. She held her breath and stretched taller and she looked like something inflating. I swim like this, Pappi, she said. For you I swim in this, she said. She fumbled with the button of her pants. I patted Maria-Elizabeth’s head and she looked up at me and smiled briefly. Gabriel stood up and grabbed Maria-Lady and her flesh looked warm and rubbery and she laughed and resisted and squealed. Gabriel lifted her off the ground and her laughter was loud and sharp like a series of claps and her gaping mouth was a shock of big, spaced teeth and raw flesh and moisture. The ashes of swirling, glazed pink and brown and white looked like something melting. Gabriel put her down and picked her shirt off the sand and handed it back to her and said that he took her point and then grabbed her again and put his face in her armpit. I took Maria-Elizabeth for a walk along the beach and I showed her the scar on my nape where I’d been stabbed and she ran her finger around the thin lips of hardened tissue and I felt like she was pressing a coin or an amulet into me. Maria-Elizabeth had tiny, bony shoulders and hairy forearms and she was not noticeably paler in her palms or her armpits than elsewhere. When I asked her to show her tongue it was long and slender and ruby-pink and kinked at the tip and some of her mouth’s inside was grey-tinged. Her perfume was flowery and sweet and strong across her throat and I saw her wave to someone as we walked but when we stopped I told her to tell me who it was and she denied it. She pulled my fingers out of her mouth and stroked my hand until I softened my grip and then she put my hand on her fleshless backside. We paused under the shade of a lifeguard’s tower and I pushed the hair back off her brow with the heel of my palm and she played with my belt. I smelt under her hairline something like herbs and meat. We went back to the tent and Maria-Lady was sitting in Gabriel’s lap and he looked across at me behind her shoulder and smiled and then he told the girls to meet us tomorrow at eight, outside the Old Town, under the Café del Mar, and they thanked him and left together holding hands and carrying their shoes. We drank more beers under the tent and the plastic gradually sagged over us and came closer to our heads. Gabriel fell asleep. I watched the stream of merchants pass with inflatable toys dragged in giant nets and painted shell bracelets and ice creams and beer and photos of the island called Playa Blanca and I began to drift in and out of sleep. I woke once with cold water on my feet. A large woman squatted like a Sumo wrestler around my foot and rolls of sagging flesh hung between her knees and she clung to me tightly until I convinced her to go away. She got up and put her sponge in her bucket and left and was smiling and I put on more sunscreen and was squinting and felt that my cheeks were burning.
We rode the airport bus back to Doña Isabella’s apartment while the sun was setting. Gabriel leaned his bald head against the window and I watched him from the seat behind and across the aisle. His mouth was slightly open and showed his little teeth. His eyes were narrow-slitted and his head was flat and his jaw shallow and wide like a snake. He smiled occasionally like he was thinking of something and his lips drew back at the corners as though pulled from behind him by hooks. He licked his lips from one side to the other. The bandaid on his neck was horizontal and bisected a yellow and purple shadow of bruising. When he licked his lips the sound was the sound of paper on paper. His lips were dry and grey before and after he licked them.
Nicholas John Turner is a writer from Brisbane, Australia. Hang Him When He Is Not There is his first novel.